How Do I Interview a Veteran with a Disability?

The veteran talent pool, like any other job seeker segment, is populated with a certain percentage of individuals with disabilities. So how do you interview a veteran with a disability?

I received an inquiry the other day where the recruiter stated that she had received a resume from a military veteran with excellent qualifications for the position she was trying to fill.  When it came time to schedule the interview, the veteran indicated that he was deaf and asked if the interview could be conducted over email versus over the phone.  The recruiter wanted to know what else she could do to make the interview a success.

First, I applaud the fact that she did not let a stated veteran disability dissuade her from considering an applicant.  I quickly referred her to one of my favorite resources – the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).  You can search its accommodations database for the particular situation you are facing and then by the particular limitation you are trying to address and you will see a list of accommodations that could be made.  The best part about JAN is its consultants are available (at NO CHARGE to employers) to answer any additional questions you may have.  You can reach the consultants by phone, email or live chat.

Another resource for this specific situation is the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.  It has a Center on Employment which specifically addresses how to interview someone who is hard of hearing and how to make accommodations after the hire.

Here are a few additional resources:

(If you can recommend other resources, please specify in the comment section and provide a link.)

One resource I would like to see (please contact me if you know of any) is one for interviewing persons with facial or other visible disfigurement.  We have veterans with disabilities who have burn scars and/or missing or severely damaged facial components.  The resources I have come across are for the person with the disfigurement preparing them to meet an employer.  There are discussions on whether to address the disfigurement before meeting the hiring manager (such as in the cover letter, or when scheduling the interview) or upon meeting the interviewer before sitting down (“In case you are wondering what happened to my face…”)  But the only advice I have seen for the employers is “Don’t stare”, “Don’t let it throw you for a loop” and “Don’t ask how they attained the disfigurement”.

Particularly with facial disfigurement, you may encounter someone whose speech is difficult to understand.  One approach would be to read up on how to interview people who stutter.   One piece of advice for HR from The Stuttering Foundation that I think would behoove us all to consider is that “people who stutter often have excellent communications skills. They should not be seen as deficient at verbal communication. Some people who stutter are very often qualified for and interested in positions requiring them to deal with members of the public on a daily basis.”  The same is true for persons with facial disfigurement.  Don’t assume they want to work away from public view.  I recently had the pleasure of meeting J.R. Martinez, a former Army Infantryman who was burned over 40% of his body in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2003.  He is now an actor on the TV show “All My Children” and a motivational speaker.   He is also featured in a documentary called “TRIAL BY FIRE: Lives Re-forged”.  Clearly, he is not someone who doesn’t want to be seen.

You might think that your recruiters and hiring managers would never intentionally disrespect a person with a disability.  Hopefully, you are correct.  But, are they prepared so as to not unintentionally disrespect them?  And what happens after the interview is over?  A few years ago I actually had a hiring manager tell me after interviewing someone who was visually impaired that she was not going to recommend that the company hire him because she “just can’t imagine him interacting well with clients”.  It was more about her perception of what a XYZ Company employee “looks like” versus what skills the candidate brought to the table.  And this happened after her company had declared that it wanted to improve its hiring of persons with disabilities!  So, the point is – don’t assume your recruiters and managers are prepared to interact with people with disabilities just because you told them it is a strategic focus for the year.  You have to provide training (and this should be regular/annual professional development for hiring managers and supervisors) and opportunities to interact with wounded warriors and other persons with disabilities in a non-recruitment setting.